John Boyd

Born: October 14, 1933;

Died: April 9, 2024

By the time he was 55 John Boyd had had a highly respected career in the police force and now, in late December 1988, he was looking forward with some eagerness to his next challenge.

He had been a uniformed police officer and had steadily worked up his way up the ranks: detective, planner, commander of a busy division in Glasgow, and assistant chief constable in charge of all crime matters in Strathclyde, not to mention president of Scotland’s chief police officers' association.

For the last four years he had been chief constable at Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland’s smallest police force. The intention was that he would retire on May 31, 1989, and take up the position of HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland.

The night of December 21, 1988 found him putting up wallpaper in his Dumfries home in readiness for selling up and relocating to Edinburgh. But an urgent television newsflash upended everything: an airliner had crash-landed over the Borders town of Lockerbie.

“When it happened there was a feeling of disbelief and shock which was quickly replaced by the feeling that we could not look back,” he reflected in The Glasgow Herald a few months later. “We had to look forward, to respond in the most professional way possible yet do so while having compassion for other people”.

The Lockerbie disasterThe Lockerbie disaster (Image: free)

Yet little could have prepared him, or his police colleagues or other first responders, for the sheer magnitude of the disaster that befell Lockerbie on that December night.

Pan Am flight 103, a New York City-bound Boeing 747 from Heathrow, exploded over the small town. In all, 270 people from 21 countries lost their lives, among them all 259 passengers and crew members, and 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. No fewer than 190 of the victims were American.

Using emergency police powers Mr Boyd called in the army, the air force and officers from neighbouring forces, and quickly established a control room at Lockerbie Academy.

“I was immediately in a position of great pressure,” he recalled. “I laid down five principles, five aims for the team to work to. The first was total accuracy, the second the best co-ordination possible, the third was the concrete priority of gathering in every shred of physical evidence from the plane, the fourth involved the meticulous timing of the release of information and the fifth was to ensure the proper diplomatic processes were observed in all overseas enquiries.''

The Lockerbie bombing became the intense focus of Britain’s largest criminal enquiry. As the CIA website puts it: “The determined investigation over more than 11 years was a jigsaw-puzzle assembly by many co-operating law-enforcement, intelligence, and legal personnel from numerous countries, including a CIA electronics expert who uncovered a key piece of evidence.”

Mr Boyd's handling of the investigation from the very earliest stage (at a time when there was intense, worldwide media interest in the tragedy) was characterised by his resolute insistence on only the highest standards of evidence gathering. He is said by the co-author of one book about the disaster that he appreciated “every bit of amazing help and support” he received from the FBI.

His leadership at that point was important in the welding together of an investigation team which included his own officers and those from the neighbouring large forces. Just as important was the sympathetic manner in which the relatives of the 270 victims were handled.

The flow of information had to be handled with care and sensitivity. ''It was very important that we gave proper responses at the proper time,” he said in a Glasgow Herald interview. “It was one of the biggest ever international disasters and the biggest international mass murder.

“Had it only been the first we could have given everyone as much information as they needed. It is still very important to keep the world informed but we must always protect the integrity of the murder inquiry.”

There was intense pressure, too, from distressed relatives. “Pan Am were flying people into Lockerbie, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, but often they were not the next of kin," he said. "We had to be very sympathetic but we had to resist the pressures to take shortcuts. I kept thinking that whatever pressures I was under were nothing compared with those on the relatives. Anyone who tried to hide behind a macho image in a situation like that would do himself more harm than good."

After five arduous months Mr Boyd finally stepped down from his Dumfries and Galloway post in order to take up his Inspector of Constabulary post; he was succeeded at Dumfries by George Esson, deputy chief constable of Grampian Police. That same year he was made a CBE for his handling of the Lockerbie investigation. He also received the Queen’s Police Medal. Four years later he became HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland and served until 1996.

John MacInnes Boyd was born in Oban in 1933 to Duncan Boyd and his wife Catherine (née MacInnes). He attended Oban High School and later began a joinery apprenticeship. He was a talented sportsman in his teens, particularly at shinty, and at 17 was part of the Oban Camanachd team in the 1951 Camanachd Cup Final against Newtonmore.

He became a noted Camanachd stalwart throughout the 1950s, winning Macaulay Cup medals in 1952 and 1954 before captaining the side to success in the competition in 1957.

He continued his shinty career with Oban Camanachd when he joined Paisley Burgh Police in 1956 before moving to the Glasgow Mid Argyll team in 1958. He is remembered by those who saw him play as a fast skilful forward with “a great eye for goals”.

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He was a long-serving director of the Celtic Society before being appointed Chieftain in 2016, and was also a patron of the Camanachd Association.

Mr Boyd, who died aged 90, in a Bridge of Weir care home on April 9, is survived by his wife Sheila, whom he married in 1957, their sons Peter and Alastair, and 11 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In the words of Craig Naylor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, John Boyd exemplified the epitome of leadership, dedication, and service throughout his career.

“He devoted himself to upholding the highest standards of law enforcement and community safety at a time of immense tragedy following the bombing of a flight over Lockerbie,” Mr Naylor added. “His legacy serves as an inspiration, embodying the virtues of integrity, compassion, and courage.”

Russell Leadbetter